Nova Scotia

Why Ottawa, Hamilton may not be the ideal models for Halifax's CFL plans

The group behind a pitch to bring a CFL franchise and stadium to Halifax touts Ottawa and Hamilton as the inspirations for its plans, but the experience in those jurisdictions has come with problems.

Stadium problems in Hamilton, unoriginal retail offerings in Ottawa are some of the criticisms of models there

Anthony LeBlanc is a founding partner in Maritime Football Limited. (Robert Short/CBC)

The group behind a plan to bring a CFL franchise and stadium to Halifax touts Ottawa and Hamilton as the inspiration for the model they'd like to replicate in Nova Scotia, but the experience in those jurisdictions has come with problems.

Maritime Football Limited wants to bring a franchise to Halifax and build a 24,000-seat stadium that would also be used for high school and university sports, concerts, music festivals and community events. The stadium would be part of a development that would also feature housing, office and retail space.

Ottawa is the inspiration for the mixed-use developments, while the stadium in Hamilton serves as a possible model for Halifax's stadium.

In Ottawa, Lansdowne Park is a redevelopment that was completed as a public-private partnership between the City of Ottawa, Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group and other partners. According to Isabelle Jasmine, the deputy city treasurer, the overall project cost was about $425 million, and the city's share was about $210 million.

Anthony LeBlanc, one of the founding partners in Maritime Football, lives a block away from Lansdowne Park.

"What you see in Ottawa is people show up two, three hours before [games]," he said. "They go to the restaurants, they go to the bars, then they go to the game. And then afterwards, they're not rushing out, they're sticking around, so it's great for the economy."

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Ryan Smith dives for the goal-line to score his second touchdown against the B.C. Lions in Vancouver on Nov. 13, 2016. (Canadian Press)

Jonathan McLeod is a columnist for the Ottawa Sun who often writes about urban issues and municipal politics in the city. He doesn't dispute that when the Redblacks play, Lansdowne Park is booming. When the Redblacks aren't playing is what concerns him.

"It's not as busy as it should be," he said. "It sort of fails the Tuesday-morning test. Yes, when there's a Redblacks game on a Saturday afternoon, the place is packed. On Tuesday morning, it's a ghost town."

McLeod said since the redevelopment at Lansdowne Park took place, there have been two coffee shops that have closed down.

People skate at the rink at Lansdowne Park, in Ottawa on Sunday, Dec. 25, 2016. (The Canadian Press)

"An urban district that can't really support its coffee shops probably is having a problem supporting itself," he said.

LeBlanc said the neighbourhood is "bustling" even when the Redblacks aren't playing and said the development houses some of the city's top restaurants, even though only one ranks among the top 100 on TripAdvisor. Joey Lansdowne, a restaurant chain, is currently in the 97th spot.

LeBlanc is also a fan of the retail outlets the development has attracted, noting there's a Whole Foods and a Winners.

"If we could replicate even to a 50 percentile range of what they've added as a success in Ottawa, it's a touchdown," he said.

In Ottawa, there was a lot of "hope and promise" for Lansdowne's retail component, said Susan Sherring, an Ottawa-based writer who blogs about city hall and formerly worked as a columnist for the Ottawa Sun.

"It's disappointing. It was supposed to be something really special and I don't consider the retail special," she said, singling out the Winners and Joey's.

Sherring said she doesn't think the retail proposition at Lansdowne is compelling enough to draw suburban residents there, let alone tourists.

CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie, centre, meets businessman Anthony LeBlanc, middle right, and Maritime fans during the Atlantic Schooners Down East Kitchen Party during Grey Cup week in November 2017. (Devin Heroux/CBC Sports)

"These are franchises you can find everywhere," she said.

McLeod said he doesn't want to seem negative about the project and hopes it becomes successful, but notes the financial results haven't been promising to date.

"Over the first few years, they haven't really reached the financial milestones that they wanted to reach," he said. "They aren't making the money they wanted to make, the city wasn't seeing the dividend they wanted to see."

For 2016, the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group posted a $14.4-million net loss and it was $12.6 million the year before.

As for a stadium to replicate, LeBlanc said the Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton is a great example.

"What we like about the Tim Hortons Field is it's the right size, the right amount of [premium seating] and quite frankly, they built it at a reasonable cost," he said.

Hamilton's stadium problems

The $145-million field holds 24,000 people and was slated to open in June 2014, but its opening was delayed.

A CBC News story notes that as of late February 2018, there were still leaks being fixed and a railing to be replaced.

"These are all what we consider deficiencies, or latent defects," said Rom D'Angelo, the city's director of energy, fleet and facilities.

Even more than three years after it opened, the Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton was having deficiencies fixed. (Aaron Lynett/The Canadian Press)

There were also numerous lawsuits between the city, the province and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats over obstructed seats and falling speakers.

Tim Outhit, the Halifax councillor for Bedford-Wentworth, previously said the stadium would cost at least $200 million and while the venture would be privately led, there would likely be a capital request of "somewhere between $50 million and $150 million from the various levels of government."

Province says it has no money for a stadium

Premier Stephen McNeil has ruled out financial support for a stadium.

"General revenue is not part of our conversation. I'm not reaching into general revenue to build a football stadium," he said on July 13.

Four days later, Halifax council asked for a staff report to look into building a stadium. City spokesperson Nick Ritcey said that report likely won't be ready until "late fall."